Although we've been in Tennessee for about 15
years now, we are not (as many of you are aware) native to the South; we're both from northern
New York State. People in other parts af the U.S. often ask us if there was culture shock after
we moved here. And how! After 15 years we're still not sure we're over it! But just to show
we weren't alone in perceiving a change in culture in our move, here's a few remarks from someone
else who's made the move to this region.
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Copy Editing and Coping
in the Wilds of Columbus
(Georgia, that is)
by Carolyn Doyle
It's not a bad drive down South from St. Louis. Some parts, especially the area around Chattanooga, are beautiful. The roads are four-lane most of the way, and the highway signs even warn you which exits harbor which fast food joints.
I was driving to Colunbus, Georgia, from St. Louis on a rainy March day. Behind me, David stayed, to join me later after watching the movers load our collection of mismatched furniture and too many books into the truck. I was leaving my first real newspaper job behind -- a job where I'd gone from being a reporter to a copy editor, where in the space of 2½ years I had become one of the newspaper's old-timers, one of those people who teach the new ones how to use the computer system. My last night there, I'd worked a full shift, had my last take-away dinner from Lee Wah's Chinese Food, and drank my last coconut-rum and 7-Up I've ever had, sitting with about a dozen of my colleagues at Good Times bar.
Behind me, all that. Ahead... a better-paying job -- and the prospect of having to get a hotel room, find an apartment, get the utilities started, hunt for a decent grocery store, a new doctor...
Was I apprehensive? You bet.
In fact, if I'd known what kind of motel I was going to be staying at once I reached my destination, I might have just kept on the road...
I'd spent most of the previous day driving, and headed into town the second day still feeling pretty tired. It was pouring down rain when I reached the city, and I stopped at the first hotel I saw downtown, figuring it would be a good location for apartment hunting -- in the center of town, I'd be close to things, and it would be easier for people to know where I was when they gave me directions.
That night I watched some TV before going to bed. As I flipped through the channels, I noticed this motel offered The Playboy Channel. Later that night, I found out why. The place I'd picked was where all the women (and boys) who "work" downtown take thelr clients. There was a lot of traffic in and out of some of those rooms, and some mildly interesting noises...
Welcome to Columbus.
I ran into the language barrier the next day, looking for apartments. The woman on the phone was trying to give me directions. "You jus go down Wynnton and it's rawt acrawst from the Crawn station."
"The Cra-a-a-wne station," she said.
I drove down Wynnton Road, looking for a Crane station, whatever that was. I'd driven several miles before realizing I'd overshot. Turning back, I finally found the piace -- across from the Crown gas station.
Later I found an apartment (the one right across from the Cra-a-a-wne station, in fact). I started my job at the newspaper. One day a woman was trying to dictate an obituary to me over the phone. I'd never taken one over the phone since I'd moved to Columbus, but I'd been reading and editing them for a few months and the obit clerk was nowhere in sight.
"Mizruz Anna Lee Stewart."
"Anna Lee two words? Stewart, S-T-E-W-A-R-T? OK, First name Misruz, M-I-S-R-U-Z --"
"No, it's Anna." (Misruz = Mrs.)
Give me some credit for that last one. At least I'd been in the South long enough that the idea of a name like Misruz didn't phase me. Not after men named Marion and LaVon (not to mention men with nicknames like Nookie, Bubba, Bubber, Shug, and Skin -- and a couple of those are politicians). Then there was the couple named Jimmie and Earthlene Johnson -- Jimmie was the woman and Earthlene was the man.
Of course, today's Southerners are just carrying on a tradition of unusual names (unusual to my Midwest ears, anyway). Hatchechubbee, Chattahoochee, Annaweekee, Muscogee are all Indian names of rivers and places that still survive.
In the South you see headache powders as frequently as aspirin, grits come in assorted flavors, you get RC Cola instead of Pepsi, Moon Pies instead of Twinkies, and Krystal burgers instead of White Castles. Come Thanksgiving, almost every shopping cart sports a burdle of turnip greens or collards as big as a possum next to the turkey -- but I could on1y find one store in town that sold orange-cranberry relish. And if you want a good deli-style sandwich, you'd better make it yourself.
You can tell something about the foods that shape the South (or at least the Southerners) just by looking at how much space grocery stores devote to different items. Some stores have nearly half an aisle devoted to flour (perhaps ten different brands, each with its different varieties and sizes -- the big 10 or 20 pound bag may have a free washcloth sewn on the outside). Then there's breading and crackermeal and different kinds of cornmeal and biscuit and corn muffin mixes and batters.
There's a lot of space for tea, too, but it's mostly plain, whether loose, bagged or instant. Iced tea, not Coke or even RC, is what every good Southerner drinks, nay, drowns in. When you go to a restaurant and ask for tea, that's what you get -- I guess only us damnyankees drink the stuff hot.
You won't find frozen ravioli (I've tried -- used to use it all the time in St. Louis to make fried ravioli), or frozen chicken cordon bleu. And the only Jonathan apples I tasted this year were some I imported from exotic Indianapolis, my hometown.
But there are consolations to living down here, I suppose. The best barbecue I've ever tasted is made in the South -- specifically, here in Columbus (but that's another story in itself). And there are other compensations: magnolia trees, hummingbirds, dogwoods, rafting down the Chattahoochee, those little lizards that change color... In the spring (which comes early down here), azaleas bloom everywhere, and it looks just like paradise.
And there's the weather. I'm writing this on March 21, the second day of spring. The sun is beating down and I'm sitting by the pool in my shorts and my tube top. A few feet away, a couple of women are already in their bikinis, getting a head start on their surtrner tans. In my native Midwest, there may be snow on the ground. I'll trade the risk of frostbite for the risk of sunburn any day.
I don't suppose I'll stay in Columbus forever -- and unless my next move is back to the Midwest, it's possible the next place I live could have just as many strange things that I'll have to contend with. But I haven't been there yet, so I don't know. In the meantime, perhaps the best thing I can say about the South overall is that I don't think it's as bad as living on another planet -- but then, I haven't been there yet, either.
Illustrations by Teddy Harvia